Revisions to the DSM and What It Means for Transgender Individuals

Last week the Associated Press reported that the Board of Trustees for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) approved revisions to the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Revisions include the replacement of Gender Identity Disorder with Gender Dysphoria. The language change is the result of years of lobbying by advocates who feel that using Gender Identity Disorder as a classification implies that all transgender individuals are mentally ill. Transgender patients will be diagnosed with the new classification, Gender Dysphoria, only if they display “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender,” according to LGBT news source The Advocate

Via the Advocate:

“All psychiatric diagnoses occur within a cultural context,” New York psychiatrist Jack Drescher, a member of the APA subcommittee working on the issue, said. “We know there is a whole community of people out there who are not seeking medical attention and live between the two binary categories. We wanted to send the message that the therapist’s job isn’t to pathologize.”

Some advocates see the revision as simply a rewording of the same idea. These advocates feel that the revision still classifies all transgender people as mentally ill.  Others see the revision as a win against the stigmatization of transgender individuals. Regardless, the new diagnostic paradigm will have major implications in law, policy, and health care. It is clear that law and policy change will have to coincide with revisions to the DSM in order to expand access to legal and employment protections, health care coverage, and other issues pertinent to the lives, realities, and experiences of transgender people and their families.

Earlier in the year, the APA Task Force on Treatment of Gender Identity Disorders reported the need for specific guidelines addressing the unique health needs of transgender patients. Additionally, the task force called on the APA to release position statements supporting “the rights of persons of any age who are gender variant, transgender, or transsexual.” These actions mark an important shift in practitioners’ perspectives on treating transgender patients.

About Kaitlin Legg

Former Program Assistant at the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Rochester.
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